May the 5th is celebrated as Doppa Day. But what is it and how did it all get started? Tsering Passang, Founder and Chairman of the Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities, explains it all.
A young Uyghur activist, journalist and former political prisoner, named Tahir Imin, started the Doppa Festival in 2009. This festival was first held in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (aka East Turkistan), hometown of the young Uyghur activist. The festival was broadcast by the Central China TV (CCTV) in Beijing. By 2011 the festival gained popularity and spread in other parts of the country. A seminar on Doppa festival was even organised by the Yakan (Shache) county and Kashgar Prefecture local government.
Let’s not forget the history: After Mao Tsetung came to power and with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1st October 1949, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops invaded East Turkistan. The ongoing subjugation including crimes against humanity, the Uyghur genocide committed by the Chinese State is very well documented.
On the eve of Uyghur Doppa Day, the Executive Council of the East Turkistan Government in Exile released a Statement, which said: “Given that the doppa is a symbolic but straightforward way of expressing East Turkistani / Uyghur national identity, the East Turkistan Government in Exile has encouraged Uyghurs and other East Turkistanis to wear their doppas daily. The doppa has essentially transformed into a symbol of resistance to China’s attempts to eradicate the unique culture, national identity, and very existence of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples.”
The Statement further said, “The East Turkistan Government in Exile also encourages friends, supporters, and all who sympathize with the Uyghurs to wear a doppa in solidarity with East Turkistan and its people, especially on May 5th – Uyghur Doppa Day.”
Doppa is a four-cornered hat that is an essential part of the traditional Uyghur dress. It is also traditionally worn by the Turkic peoples in Central Asia. Often brightly studded or embroidered with a distinctly Islamic and Turkic aesthetic, they are a point of pride for the Uyghurs of East Turkistan. It is said that there are over 250 different types of Doppas. The Doppa can signify gender, one’s hometown, which reflects a particular artistic tradition of where it’s produced.
The celebration of Doppa Day has clearly facilitated intercultural dialogue among the communities concerned. China’s deliberate policy of banning the Doppa in schools and other public places has alarmed the Uyghur people who fear that the Chinese government is on a mission to annihilate their traditional Uyghur culture.
Uyghur culture is a unique blend of East Asian, Central Asian and Islamic cultures as Uyghur cities such as Kashgar and Urumqi were historically major cities on the Silk Road which connected Asia in thought, commerce and society far before the invention of digital mass communication. Uyghur people are predominantly Muslims and speak the Uyghur language which is a Turkic language more closely related to Turkish and Kazakh than it is to its neighboring languages of Mandarin and Tibetan, it is traditionally written in Arabic script.
Last year, during the formal launch of the Stop Uyghur Genocide, a London-based non-governmental organisation, which campaigns for the rights of the Uyghur people, the Uyghur Community presented Doppas to some leading British supporters. Benedict Roger, CEO of the Hong Kong Watch, who was seen wearing the Doppa at a London rally, proudly explained that he was wearing the traditional Uyghur attire to show support and solidarity with the Uyghur people.
Who is Tahir Imin?
Tahir Imin, who was born in 1981, studied Islamic religion and Arabic in an underground religious school after graduating from high school. He taught at a religious centre which was later banned by the Chinese government. Tahir was imprisoned twice by the Chinese government due to his involvement in Uyghur cultural and religious activities. He was put in Xi Hu Lao Jiao Suo prison from 2005 to 2007.
After Chen Quanguo took up the highest Party Secretary position in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from 2016 to 2021, it was almost impossible for Tahir to remain in his own homelands. Chen Quanguo, who previously served as the Party Secretary in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), is notoriously known for his hardliner position in Tibet. So, in 2017, Tahir fled the country and eventually moved to the United States. After he began speaking up about his experiences and human rights abuses of the Uyghur people at the hands of the Chinese authorities, the regime retaliated against him by imprisoning his family members, forcing his wife to divorce him, and not allowing him to contact his daughter.
Despite the difficult challenges, Tahir continued speaking out against the Chinese regime and its continued violations of civil, religious, political and human rights in East Turkistan. He subsequently founded Uyghur Times, a news agency which focuses on news from his homelands. An interview with Tahair Imin is available here.